• Advice

5 tips for transitioning from moonlighting to full-time freelancing

Most freelancers start moonlighting while working a 9-to-5 gig. Over time, they build the contacts, confidence, and cash reserves they need to step out and go 100% solo.

But for many looking to transition to full-time freelance, the first question is: How do I start? And how do I know when I’m ready to make the leap?

Here are 5 tips on how to gain your momentum and confidence so you can leave your day job:

Tip 1: Don’t quit without doing some freelance work first.

If your plan is to leave your full-time job and go 100% freelance, you need to make sure that you like the process of working on your own. Don’t just assume that you’re going to love freelancing!

We recommend making sure you’re not just freelancing for one client on the side, either -- that’s not going to be a representative sample.

Tip 2: Target your market.

Even in the early stages of planning your freelance career, it pays to start thinking about what type of clients you'll want to work with. Making a list of those potential clients will lead you to the next step.

From there, you can set a goal based on how much you can realistically earn each week or set a limit to the hours you work. Whatever you decide make sure to establish some guidelines to help you kick off your new venture!

Tip 3: When you do leave, maintain old relationships.

Use your old contacts to get those first gigs. Frank Miller, a Los Angeles-based web designer, says that consulting and short-term gigs can come directly from previous employers who hired you full-time:

“When I left my last full-time job, I suggested they hire me as a contractor to finish up some of the websites I’d been working on. The transition process was relatively easy for both of us, and I had my 1st official client,” Frank says. Working for your former employers on a freelance basis is a great way to build your client base.

Tip 4: Get organized with your finances.

As a freelancer you have to log your hours, send invoices, track payments, buy supplies, learn new software -- and all of that is non-billable time. Invest money to make sure your new venture can run, but don't spend on unnecessary items. As you transition, saving money and being aware of your expenses is important; cash flow (or the lack thereof) can become a problem very quickly.

If you don't have a steady stream of cash flow and clients right off the bat (which would be very unusual), then save up in advance before you quit your day job. How many months will it take you to get back up to a sustainable income level? Estimate and then add 2 more months for safe measure.

Being strapped for cash in the beginning does have one benefit: it forces you to think of creative ways to meet your business needs without spending a dime. When possible, trade skills with others and learn the basics of bookkeeping from your friend’s cousin, or buy a $5 accounting app instead of throwing expense receipts in a pile.

And don't forget about your taxes! Consult with a tax advisor about how to document and report your earnings from freelance and consulting work. You always want to keep a record of your projects, invoices, paychecks, and expenses.

Tip 5: Network with other freelancers.

Make an effort to seek out fellow freelancers and build your own community. Many freelancers start out by networking just with the people they think will bring them jobs; but with 81% of freelancers referring jobs to other freelancers, it pays to network with fellow independents.

Plus, veteran freelancers understand the challenges you might face and will be able to offer good advice about getting started and managing your time.

Amber James, a Portland-based copywriter, recommends attending small events and investing in conferences whenever possible. "I'm also a fan of Creative Mornings – a nationwide breakfast lecture series,” Amber told us.

If you’re thinking of transitioning to freelance, start networking by joining Freelancers Union! It’s free and you can begin networking in our online Directory.